With British Columbians self-isolating at home in 2020 due to COVID-19, communities across B.C. have seen a surge of interest in homesteading activities, such as baking, gardening and preserving. Whether it’s the desire to be self-sufficient or just having extra time around the house, more people are also expressing an interest in raising backyard chickens.
But Melissa Speirs, farm animal manager for the BC SPCA, says raising backyard chickens can be a lot of work and can present unique challenges people may not be prepared for. “It’s important for anyone interested in raising a backyard flock to thoroughly research what’s involved and to plan carefully before deciding if it is a good fit for them.
Speirs says some of the questions that individuals should consider are:
- Are backyard chickens legal in my community?
- Do I have the knowledge and skills necessary to provide adequate care for chickens?
- Do I have access to suitable nutrition and veterinary care in my community?
- What will I do if I have unwanted chickens/roosters?
- What do I plan to do with my chickens once they stop laying eggs?
- How will I protect my flock from predators and poor weather?
- How will I dispose of chicken waste, feathers, and possible carcasses?
- Am I aware of the human health risks associated with keeping chickens?
- Do I know how to humanely catch and transport a chicken?
- Am I able to provide an environment for the chickens that meet the requirements of the Canadian Code of Practice of egg-laying hens?
“This surge in backyard chickens being raised by unprepared guardians can have many negative animal welfare consequences,” says Speirs. “The BC SPCA is receiving more calls to rescue unwanted chickens, who have been abandoned to fend for themselves. They are vulnerable to predators, bad weather, and struggle to find food, potentially leading to starvation and death if not rescued.”
She notes that roosters are more at risk of being abandoned as they are less desirable to hobby farmers. “When chicks are purchased, it is difficult to tell if they are male or female, so they are raised until they are a few months old and it is easier to tell them apart. Since male chickens don’t lay eggs, and can sometimes be aggressive with the hens or other roosters in the flock, people often get rid of them.”
Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer for the BC SPCA, says the BC SPCA understands that there are situations where people can no longer care for their animals. “We will always be here as a safety net to take in these animals when they are surrendered to us, but we also want to remind the public that not only is it cruel to abandon an animal, it is also illegal and punishable under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.”
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